While The MERS Camel Vaccine Works, A Human Version Is Challenging

Jon Mark

Since the first reported case of a human being infected by the MERS virus in 2012, scientists have been moving quickly to come up with a MERS camel vaccine that could go to the source of the infection to stop the spread of the virus.

Because the research done since the first case of a human infection was reported, it was discovered that the virus comes from Dromedary camels, which are indigenous to the Middle East.

The latest news on the effort to prevent MERS from spreading comes from two sources. One reported the most is from Science Magazine, which publishes papers as a journal, and another one on the Journal of Virology, which goes back as far as August of 2013 to show the how the Modified Vaccinia Virus Ankara (MVA) efficiently induces virus-neutralizing antibodies.

In the video provided is a report by Deutsche-Welle about the spreading of the virus in South Korea during the Summer of this year. Yonhap Newsreports that 2,361 people were quarantined around June, with some reported deaths.


Mentioned in the video are a the same group of scientists from Germany and the Netherlands, who are working to find a vaccine for the respiratory illness which they tested out on mice in 2014 with the intention to try it out on camels in 2016, but as the reports clearly show, the testing came a lot earlier.

In the published paper, which includes scientists from Erasmus University, the leading researchers on the virus, scientists were able to genetically modify a smallpox vaccine to display the MERS virus protein on its surface.

The MERS camel vaccine was then tested on four of eight camels, where the rest were given a placebo before they were all given the actual virus. When they were checked on again up to ten days later, the camels given the vaccine had reduced signs of the virus.

The vaccine was both introduced as an inhalant and injected into the muscle.

More important is the effort to create a vaccine for humans which, according to some experts, is a lot harder to do.

Last year, National Geographic published an article on why they feel that making a MERS vaccine for humans would not be easy.

The article explains the reasons for this come down to the market economy and the process one has to go through to make these vaccines, not supporting it.

One example of this is shown in a story about a $105 million dollar lab that is focused on fighting both MERS and Ebola, which was published by PBS Newshour. In this case, the development of an Ebola vaccine took priority over a MERS vaccine.

— Michelle Stroud (@stlemt911) November 2, 2015

One look at the process is with a biopharmaceutical company named Harmishpherx Biopharma who, according to a press release on their site, submitted an application to get orphan drug designation for their Alferon N injection product to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), an experimental therapeutic effort to treat MERS, June of this year.

In October, they published a follow up in which the company confirmed that they received a positive opinion on their injection product.

To add the process from beginning to end is estimated to take an average of six years to a decade before there's a human vaccine but while research is still being conducted on the virus, scientists are still discovering new obstacles such as a group of Chinese scientists did, who according to China News Service, discovered different variants of the virus.

The first obstacle would have been the acceptance that the virus posed a threat to humans at all, which many people in the camel industry at first denied, as the Inquisitrposted, where people were publicly mocking the spread of the illness from camels to humans.

[Image via NIAID/Flickr | CC BY 2.0]